Monday, March 19, 2012

Practice Hospitality...!

In writing to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul offers instructions about how we are to treat others, with a very short two-word sentence: "Practice Hospitality."

Hospitality is an under appreciated art. If you have been the recipient of gracious hospitality, you have a sense of being noticed, welcomed and made to feel at home or comfortable, even when you are in unfamiliar surroundings.

Judy will tell you that the aisles of any grocery store are more or less unfamiliar surroundings for me. It was not ever thus, but I am truly blessed that Judy does the grocery shopping except for those rare instances when she says, "I forgot to buy... Would you mind running to the store?" No I don't mind and so off I go.

We are fortunate, here in Central Florida, to have a wonderful chain of grocery stores that are known for, among other things, hospitality. When I run to one of them to get this or that, I know without a doubt that the folks who work there will be pleasant and welcoming and helpful. You know which stores I mean, if I tell you that when I cannot find what I am looking for, I can depend on one of the helpful employees to help me find it. Indeed, they are trained not simply to say, "You will find it on Aisle Five" but rather to go with the shopper and take them to the very spot where the article in question may be found.

The Christian, I think is to do that, in following Paul's dictum to "Practice Hospitality". One is not so much to say, "You may find out about Jesus in Aisle Five", as one is to stop what one is doing. And take the person there. And introduce them to Jesus. And know that they have found what they have been searching for, perhaps all of their lives.

It makes sense, doesn't it? Otherwise they might stumble around in whatever passes for Aisle Five for a very long time, or come home with something other than (and less than) the Living Lord.

You may not have thought about it that way, but it is true. A person is much more inclined to become part of a worshiping fellowship if a friend BRINGS them to church. Not, "I'll see you in Aisle Five..." (Or "Pew Five") ...but "Come with me to church, we are having Music Appreciation Sunday, or Gifts of Women Sunday, or a Living Last Supper, or Palm Sunday, or Easter, or The Church Picnic--all of which are the kinds of special Sundays that make it the easiest thing in the world to BRING a friend and help them feel that they are, in fact, a welcome guest in our midst.

Indeed studies have been done that show that 70 percent of the people who join a church do so because someone brought them to church. Are you part of The Seventy Percent Solution?

Christian writer Kathleen Norris, her book "Dakota: A Spiritual Geography", says this: “True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person. Henri Nouwen has described it as receiving the stranger on his own terms, and asserts that it can be offered only by those who 'have found the center of their lives in their own hearts'.”

When we pay attention to Jesus we see Him making places of hospitality for the people He meets. A dusty road becomes a place of welcome for an otherwise overlooked blind beggar named Bartimaeus. A community well at the wrong time of day becomes a place of kindness for the wanton, wayward woman of Sychar. A wobbly perch in a tree becomes a place of generosity for the stingy and heretofore unscrupulous tax collector Zacchaeus. A house where nothing is quite ready becomes a place of hospitality for lazy Mary who sits at His feet. Jesus knows how to make and give hospitality. We pay attention to Jesus and see a man of compassion, whose gentleness in the face of our human shortcomings is always an encouragement for us to draw closer, feel comfortable, and receive what He can give. What a joy it is to experience Jesus in all of his kindheartedness. To experience Jesus’ thoughtfulness. To find our humanity touched by His own. If people are left out, forgotten or criticized, how often He graces them by becoming a guest in their homes.

The ultimate form of Christ's hospitality is His invitation to go with Him, wherever He is going, with those simple words, "Follow me!"

When was the last time you practiced this kind of hospitality, I wonder? Why not make it part of your Lenten discipline to start, now, today, by bringing your friend, neighbor, co-worker, to worship with you.

It will bring you a real sense of joy in making the connection, serving as the catalyst, between your friend and your Friend of friends, Jesus.

I like what Jesse Browner says about hospitality,

“When I am a good host, I can order the world precisely as I believe it ought to be. It is a world that I have created in my mind and in my own image, and it gladdens me profoundly to see it unfold without original sin, without expulsions and floods and disobedience and illness. When I am a good guest, I have returned to Eden, where everything I need is provided for me, including companionship and a benevolent deity at my shoulder serving me and protecting me. The concept of paradise may be backward-looking but the concept of heaven is anticipatory. Perhaps this is what heaven will be like? A great table of oak worn smooth with age and candle wax; a dimly lit room, a quartet of angels playing Sarah Vaughan in the corner; this blissful throb of quiet, intelligent conversation; bubbling pots and aromatic stews that no one seems to have worked to prepare; and you - you have nothing to worry about, not now, not here, not for all eternity. Leave it all behind at the threshold, forget everything, for here in heaven, you are my guest.”

Hospitality. It looks back to Eden. Forward to heaven. Here and now. Consider how God may be calling you to show a little of the wonders of Eden and heaven, today.

“Hospitality is the practice of God's welcome by reaching across difference to participate in God's actions bringing justice and healing to our world in crisis,” says Letty M. Russell. Consider how God may be calling you to reach across differneces, to bring justice and healing, as Jesus Himself would do.

One of our Wekiva Presbyterian Church members and deacons, Shelli, told me a good story at lunch time this past Friday. She was asked many years ago by Ray, who was then in charge of the fellowship dinners, in a phone call, if she would be willing to help the deacons with fellowship dinners (in the kitchen) and she agreed. Ray said that they could talk about it more after worship that coming Sunday.

Shelli did not know Ray but looked him up in the directory, saw that he was a nice looking man with dark hair and glasses and prepared to find him, all of a Sunday morning. Come Sunday, she was seated in the sanctuary (but her husband Jim was not there).

Lo and behold a nice looking man with dark hair and glasses sat down in the same row. So, Shelli leaned over and whispered,
"Do you want to get together after worship?"

The man gave her a startled look and shook his head and left the sanctuary... Of course, it was not Ray. Shelli says she has never seen that man in worship since...

As Paul writes in Romans 12:13: "Practice hospitality...!"

After all, practice makes perfect!

Have a good day!

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